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The fungus Epichloë typhina in populations of a halophyte Puccinellia distans: salinity as a possible inhibitor of infection

Author(s): Marlena Lembicz | Paweł Olejniczak

Journal: Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae
ISSN 0001-6977

Volume: 78;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 81;
Date: 2009;
Original page

Keywords: choke disease | diagnostic polymerase chain reaction (PCR) | field experiment | fungal endophyte | frequency of infection | man-made habitats | Puccinellia distans | salinity

Puccinellia distans is a non-agricultural halophytic grass that has become another host plant for Epichloe typhina, hitherto not reported from Poland. In 1992 we noticed the first symptoms of choke disease in a single population of P. distans in central Poland. Since then we have observed choke disease in 5 populations of P. distans only in man-made habitats. These habitats are strongly anthropogenically salinated but they exhibit the pattern of species composition characteristic of natural salines. In this paper we test the hypothesis that the level of salinity affects the infection of P. distans by the fungus E. typhina. Seven plots were established in the field and each plot was divided into 25 subplots. Within each plot the level of infection in a spring generation of shoots was negatively correlated with salinity (common regression within the plots, beta = -0.674, df = 117, p < 0.001). Negative correlation was also found in an autumn generation within the plots (beta = -0.682, df = 94, p < 0.001) after excluding plot P in which the frequency of infected individuals was the lowest and equal only to 0.05. The proportion of individuals infected by the endophytic stage of the fungus in the populations was assessed using diagnostic polymerase chain reaction. The greatest percentage (98.3%) of infected individuals was found in the population growing in the habitat of the lowest salinity. The high salinity reduces the chance of P. distans to become infected, but may promote the stroma formation of E. typhina twice in the season. Disease expression in autumn clearly represents a misadaptation which could be explained by the fact that the species interactions described here appeared relatively recently as a result of human activity. This hypothesis requires further experimental verification.
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